Family Counseling Frisco TX

The Science of Influencing a Child’s Behavior

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blog article influencing childrenHow to Get Your Child to Do More of What You Want – and Less of What You Don’t Want

Most people can at least recognize Ivan Pavlov’s name and associate him with drooling dogs, although he received a Nobel Prize on a completely different topic. I threw that fact in for free! Pavlov’s work on classical conditioning was monumental in helping us understand that things that are learned can be unlearned. However, where many people fall short in their understanding of general psychology is lacking understanding about operant conditioning, or behavioral learning. Learning five principles of behavioral learning can make all the difference in knowing how to successfully influence your child’s behavior.

These principles won’t make sense if you don’t understand what reinforcement and punishment mean. And you’ve got to know specifically what is reinforcing and punishing for each individual child.

Reinforcement can be anything that your child likes, something that is rewarding to the child. Just remember that what is reinforcing to one child may not work for another child. You may have a child who loves reading, and another child who does not. Reading time or a trip to the library is reinforcing to the first child, but not to the second.

Punishment means something that your child does not like. For example, most children do not like chores, so chores are punishing for most children. What is punishing to one child may not be punishing to another. Some children may enjoy chores, especially if they find reward in immediate results.

Children have different dislikes, as well as different likes. You’ve got to find things that are reinforcing and punishing for your specific child. You may even want to ask your child about what is reinforcing to him/her.

As you implement these five principles, you will successfully influence your child’s behavior over time. It’s scientifically proven. I’ll give two principles of behavioral learning on how to get your child to do more of what you want him/her to do and then give three principles of behavioral learning on how to get your child to do less of what you don’t want him/her to do. With each principle, I’ll give the name of the principle, an explanation, a diagram, and an example/examples.

How to Get a Child to Do More of What You Want

  1. Positive Reinforcement

If a child’s behavior is followed by a positive stimulus – or something that is reinforcing to your child – the child’s subsequent rate, intensity, or duration of the child’s behavior will go up.

1.positive reinforcement


  • A child comes and talks with a parent about something hard for him to talk about. The parent says “thanks for coming and talking with me” and comforts the child.

The child will be much more likely to come and talk with the parent about difficult topics in the future.

  • A child finishes her homework and does a good job on it. The parent gives her a scoop of ice cream (she loves ice cream). The child will be much more likely to continue to do her homework and do a good job on it in the future.
  1. Negative Reinforcement

If a child’s behavior is followed by terminating an aversive stimulus – or terminating something that your child does not like – the subsequent rate, intensity, or duration of the child’s behavior will go up.

2. negative reinforcement


  • A child does a great job cleaning his chore each day for a week. The parents decide to reinforce the child’s good behavior by giving him a day off from doing his chore. The child will be very likely to do his chores in the future.

How to Get a Child to Do Less of What You Don’t Want Them to Do

  1. Punishment

If a child’s behavior is followed by an aversive stimulus – or something that your child does not like – the subsequent rate, intensity, or duration of the child’s behavior will go down.

3. punishment


  • A child steals a piece of candy from the store. The parent finds out later that day. The parent talks with the child about why stealing is not a good idea, and then has the child go and talk with the store manager to pay for the candy. This child would be much less likely to steal candy again.
  1. Extinction

If a child’s behavior is no longer followed by a previously reinforcing stimulus – something that your child liked – the subsequent rate, intensity, or duration of the child’s behavior will go down.

4. extinction


  • A child has tantrums very frequently, whenever she does not get what she wants from her parents. The mom has usually tried to calm the daughter and eventually caved in to the daughter’s wishes after a period of time. If the mother begins to not give attention to her daughter when she is having a tantrum, she will notice that her daughter’s tantrums go down in frequency.

Response Cost

If a child’s behavior is followed by removing a positive stimulus – or taking away something reinforcing for the child – the subsequent rate, intensity, or duration of the child’s behavior will go down.

5. response cost


  • A teenager takes the family car to spend some time with a friend. The teenager comes home a couple of hours later than the agreed upon time. The parents take away the son’s privilege of driving the family car and the keys to the car for a period of time. This teenager will be much more likely to come home on time in the future.

Here are 5 behavioral principles, in summary, in diagram format:

5 behav principles children

The good news is that these five behavioral principles work. For these five behavioral principles to work, you will need to make sure that you follow a few key principles:

  1. Find out what is reinforcing and punishing to your child, specifically, and be creative in implementing these principles.
  2. Make sure that the reinforcers and punishers you use are appropriate to your child’s behavior in a given situation. A huge punishment should not be given for a small mistake.
  3. Another key for these five principles to work is that you keep your child’s developmental age in mind when you consider the timing of the reinforcers/punishers you give your child.

Your child will only learn to do the things you want them to do and to do less of the things you don’t want them to do if they associate their behavior with the reinforcer or punisher. If they do not, these five principles will not work.

For example, if your child is a teen, you have a longer time frame in giving him/her a reinforcer/punisher to your child, up to a few days. For example, you could reward him/her for following his/her daily routine throughout the week with a pizza night on Friday, and that will reinforce your teen following his/her daily routine. If your child is a toddler, you only have a few minutes. He/she wouldn’t associate a pizza night on Friday with his/her actions on Monday, let alone the day before. He/she would understand a sticker for a successful trip to the bathroom, given right after the trip. And you could have a larger reward for an accumulation of stickers. The trick is that the toddler needs something that is reinforcing to him/her immediately.

These five behavioral principles will help you if you take the time to understand and implement them. If you have any good examples of how these five behavioral principles have worked for you, post them below! Also, if you would like additional parenting support, schedule an appointment today at Center for Marriage and Family Counseling!

7 Communication Mistakes Every Parent Should Avoid

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Communication Frisco TX Counseling

Your child may be a miniature version of you – or not! — but children (ages 0-17) are not miniature adults, no matter how much they act or insist to you that they are, and no matter how much they actually believe that they are. Communication with your child will vary based on their age and stages of functioning; however, all children need you to avoid the following 7 things, in order to grow and develop in a healthy way.

  1. Do not be distracted when a child wants to talk to you. Give your individual attention. Do not try to multi-task. Do not read, watch T.V., doze off, or stay busy with other tasks. If you are too busy to talk, simply say so and make time for the child later. Otherwise, your distraction and/or impatience will be obvious to your child, causing your child’s desire to talk to you to decrease over time. Put your devices down, turn of the T.V., shut the door, etc. Let your nonverbal cues tell the child you are available.
  2. Do not say unkind words to your child. Unkind words tear children down and teach them that they are not good enough. Unkind words from parents (and other adults) cause children to have shame and low self-esteem, both of which are toxic. If you do make a mistake and say unkind words to a child, make sure that you tell them you are sorry as soon as you can and that you correct what you said. The truth is that children can be very frustrating and may make you want to say bad words all day. Take your frustrations and unkind words about your child to the Lord (if you believe in Him) or to an empty chair (if you do not) – but never take your frustrations to your child (Lund). Do take love to your child.
  3. Do not assume children can talk openly about their feelings. If children don’t want to talk, that is okay. They will share their feelings when they feel safe.
  4. Try not to jump in with words or advice until the end of the conversation. Sometimes, talking out feelings and having someone listen is all a child really wants or needs. Once a child feels heard and understood, his/her original problem may shrink into a manageable perspective or even disappear.
  5. Do not always take a child’s questions and comments at face value (Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service). Look for nonverbal cues. Nonverbal behavior such as a hunched back or curled lip can put a child’s words into context. Sometimes children speak of hidden fears and ask for reassurance indirectly with questions (Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service).
  6. Do not encourage your child to take sides. They love both of their parents. They can become confused and torn because of their love and loyalty for both parents. Do not speak negatively about the other parent in front of a child. Reassure them a child with a touch or a hug and an apology, if you make a mistake.
  7. Do not use children as a sounding board. Remember that children are just children. Look to other adults for advice when you need help with personal decisions.

These 7 things can be hard to avoid, as a parent. However, by working to avoid these negative communication behaviors with your child, you will help your child out. Improving your communication with your child will not only help your child develop more healthily, but it will also help you have a better relationship with your child. If you need help working on your communication with your child, schedule an appointment at Center for Marriage and Family Counseling today! You are not on your own.


Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service. (n.d.). Communication. Retrieved from

Lund, J. (2004) How to Hug a Teenage Porcupine. Covenant Communication.

Relieve Stress Without Causing Yourself More Stress

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blog article relieve stress without causing yourself more

Stress can be harmful. As you know well, stress can make you feel the same symptoms you feel when you are sick. To get rid of stress, you must do three things:

  • Identify the stressor.

Your stressor is what is causing you stress. Take a moment to analyze your current situation. Think about things that currently concern you. Think about the changes that have recently happened or you are expecting in the near future. Remember that stress comes from good and bad life changes. Even a birthday party is stressful! Your stressor could be anything from your upcoming marriage to losing a job. No matter what is causing you stress, once you have identified it, you made a simple but imperative step in relieving your stress. Now you must:

  • Make a decision.

Decide if you have control over the stressor in your life. Depending on your answer, there are two different ways that you can cope with your stressor.

  • Use appropriate coping strategies for your situation.

If you do have control over the stressor, then you can resolve stress using task-oriented coping strategies. This means that you can do things that will help the situation you are in. For example, if your stressor is an upcoming project at work that’s very difficult for you, you can relieve your stress by quitting your job (although that is not recommended), you can relieve your stress by scheduling your time, using effective time management, studying and researching information that you lack, or reaching out for help from an expert in your company or the field. As a result of these efforts, your difficult work project will be possible and it won’t stress you out as much.

If you do not have control over the stressor in your life, you cannot cope in this same way. For example, if you have a family member pass away (you don’t have control over that situation), you can’t use task-oriented coping strategies. Instead, you can use emotion-focused coping strategies to help you relieve stress. Emotion-focused coping means you cope by dealing with your difficult emotions. Just make sure that you deal with your emotions in a healthy way and don’t tune out your emotions. You can do something that you personally like to do such as listen to music, read an interesting article, or exercise, take time to honor your loved one, take time to take care of yourself, practice self-compassion, and/or talk with a friend. These strategies will ease your mind and help decrease your stress.

No matter what is causing you stress, you can find relief. However, there is a possible danger in seeking to relieve your stress. Chris Lowry, Ph.D. of the BYU-Idaho Psychology Department warns, “Most people have a problem when they use emotion-focused coping strategies when they should be task-oriented.” To exemplify this, take the same situation above. Your work project is causing you so much stress because you have a big test coming up. To relieve your stress, you decide to take a few days off of work to go on a shopping trip. Supposing you like to shop, you are temporarily enjoying your time shopping, but you are actually creating more stress for yourself overall. This “stress-relief” actually creates more stress for you as you won’t have enough time to finish your project, or do a good job on it.

If you are stressed, follow these two steps and reduce your stress in the right way. You will be happier. If you need help learning how to cope with stress or are faced with a significant stressor, seek help today. Schedule an appointment with one of our compassionate, knowledgeable counselors today!

6 Ways to Add Laughter to Your Life

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blog article. laughter“A good laugh and a long nap are the two best cures for anything.” –Irish Proverb

Although I love the sound of that – and the idea behind it, as a counselor, I have to say that those are not cures for everything. I wish they were. Although they certainly help with some problems, human beings are so much more complex than that. But, laughter is undoubtedly important. To be emotionally healthy, you need to experience the full range of human emotions, including happiness. Laughter will help release stress, help you connect with others, and help you feel happy.

Here are six ways you can add laughter to your life:

  1. Laugh at yourself.

Learn not to take life too seriously. Laugh at your mistakes. Work toward having an optimistic outlook on life.

  1. Find at least one funny thing in your day.

Life is full of humorous events, incongruencies, and funny things. Look for at least one funny thing a day.  The more you look for funny moments, the more able you will be to find them.

  1. Create something.

Creativity and humor tend to feed off of each other. Take time to be more creative. Read books, go exploring, create things, or plan something that you want to create later. Spend time with children. Children are superbly creative.

  1. Build a humor library.

Be sure to have a collection of funny books, cartoons, jokes, comedian videos, etc. If you don’t have any, start your collection now! Then, refer to your humor library any time you need a laugh.

    5. Do something new and outrageous (but be safe!).

Try something you’ve never tried before.

   6. Improve your self-esteem or sense of self worth.

You will feel like laughing much more often if you see yourself in a compassionate, healthy way. If you need to work on your self-compassion, visit Kristen Neff, Ph.D.’s great website or come meet with one of our counselors.

These six ideas will help you laugh more, which will help you be happier in the long run. Try out one of these ideas – or more – today!

Caution: Rarely laughing or feeling unhappy can be an indicator that you are not emotionally healthy. If this is the case for you or a loved one, advice to “just buck up and be happy,” “or “just put on a happy face” is unhelpful and ill-advised. If this is the case for you or a loved one, you need some extra support at this time. Schedule a visit with a CMFC counselor today!

Self-Compassion: A Pathway Toward Healing Trauma

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blog article. self-compassion healing traumaFor many people, the word trauma conjures up images of serious life experiences such as war, abuse, suicide and divorce. Many therapists call these types of threat to life and/or safety “Big T Trauma.”  This type of trauma is complex trauma, and is often associated with layers of traumatic events being repeatedly thrust upon a victim.  Some examples of complex trauma include: abuse throughout childhood, a domestic violence victim staying in an abusive relationship, or a spouse being betrayed repeatedly by a partner’s chronic infidelity.

Many neglect to consider “Small T Trauma” and the impact that these experiences have on one’s personal life.  For myself, during my high school years I had a crush on Stacey and got the courage to ask her to Homecoming.  She said yes and I was on top of the world.  Soon after homecoming, Stacey gave me the cold shoulder and dated many of my friends.  The pain of this was like the world on top of me!   Even 20 years later at a high school reunion, I felt the lingering pain of that event.  Some other examples of Small T Trauma include a parent not being there during a significant period in your life, drama that can happen during a holiday with family or a weekend with friends, chronic conflicts with a boss, or impaired functioning at school or work.

Here are some warning signs that you are experiencing Small T Trauma:

  • Intrusive memories or triggers from earlier traumatic events
  • Sudden mood swings with a tendency to be over-reactive
  • Flooding of emotions such as anxiety, fear, panic, anger
  • Being hypervigilent – obsessively focused on past injuries, being a detective, feeling uptight and tense

Here are some lesser known symptoms of trauma that many tend to overlook:

  • Feeling emotionally worn out or depressed as a result of too many days of fear/anxiety
  • Disassociation – or feeling outside yourself as if you are observing what is happening around you rather than being a part of your life
  • Codependency – a reaction to trauma where one seeks to care-take others in an effort to self-heal. This often leads to a neglect of your own self-care.
  • Aches and pains in the body. These can be unresolved trauma stored in the body.
  • Feeling disoriented, in a daze, a flight of ideas, and poor concentration.
  • Chronic avoidance or distancing oneself from people

Now that we have laid the groundwork for understanding Small T Trauma in your life, here are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to healing.

  • Don’t suffer in the symptoms above and think “they are not that bad” or “this is just the way I am.” Healing from these symptoms is possible
  • Healing takes time. Even if you have a symptom free season in your life, it is not a guarantee that something in life may reawaken old wounds.
  • Don’t over-function and expect that filling your life with business will prevent you from suffering. Unresolved trauma will surface in your life.

Here are some Self-Compassion guidelines for healing trauma

  • Self-compassion means slowing down, taking time for self-care and when you make a mistake you gently say, “I learned something important about myself.” I love Brene Brown’s daily affirmation: “At the end of the day whatever is done or left undone, I know I am still loveable.”
  • Meditation or Mindfulness—there are many free phone apps on the market such as Head Space or Breathe that offers a helpful guide to clear your mind and relax. The big benefit beyond relaxation is the practice of  tuning-in to oneself.  Trauma survivors learn self-attunement and grounding are vital.
  • Spirituality is about connection to self, others, God. Spiritual people tend to have a sense of purpose or meaning to what they do.  A common phrase in trauma recovery is “it is not the traumatic event that hurts us; it is the meaning we attach to the trauma.”  Spirituality teaches things like “surrender this to God” and offers insights that can create meaning to our suffering.
  • Break toxic loyalties: carefully consider relationships or projects that are leading you to be overcommitted and exhausted. Set boundaries and/or say no in order to preserve some time for self-care and a realistic pace in life.
  • Remember that F.E.A.R can be reframed to False Evidence Appearing Real or Forgetting Everything is All Right. As you recover from Trauma, you begin to allow things to happen and stop trying to control or manipulate things.
  • Remember that forgiveness is not for the offender it is for us.  Righteous anger is hard to overcome.  When we forgive, we allow more space in our hearts to love.
  • Develop an optimistic outlook. “The greatest discover of any generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude.” W. James
  • Slow down. Drive the speed limit; watch the sun set or rise;  play with a child; stare into a fire;  slow your thinking, walking and daily routine!
  • Develop a social support network. Find at least 3 friends that are safe, non-judgmental, and available.  Reach-out and share one another’s burdens.
  • Seek professional help. A good clinician has been in the pit with many suffering in trauma. He or she can walk along side you in your healing.

Remember that you are unique and that ALL your life experiences can work together for your good.  You have a special call and life purpose.  Unresolved trauma can distract and disorient you from your best self.  Practice self-compassion by taking the time to heal your wounds and so you may rise-up to your call in life. Come see us at Center for Marriage and Family Counseling and LifeSTAR Dallas, for help along your pathway toward healing trauma.